Love Virginity

Ophelia has been digging up so much horrifying misogyny and abusive teachings about the roles of women and love and sex in various contemporary fundamentalist, evangelical, explicitly patriarchal communities that my jaw hits the floor and my heart sinks to my stomach just about every time I read her indispensable blog.

Last night she highlighted the concept of “love virginity”, wherein young evangelicals are encouraged not to “give away pieces of their hearts” before marriage but to “save their whole hearts” for the one they will marry, Libby Anne explains:

Probably the most promoted book on relationships in the circles I grew up in was Joshua Harris’sI Kissed Dating Goodbye. I surely can’t be the only girl who had nightmares after reading that book. You’ll see what I mean from this excerpt:

It was finally here. Anna’s wedding day, the day she had dreamed about and planned for months. The small, picturesque church was crowded with friends and family.

Sunlight poured through the stained-glass windows, and the gentle music of a string quartet filled the air. Anna walked down the aisle toward David. Joy surged within her. This was the moment for which she had waited so long. He gently took her hand, and theyturned toward the altar.

But as the minister began to lead Anna and David through theirvows, the unthinkable happened. A girl stood up in the middle of the congregation, walked quietly to the altar, and took David’s other hand. Another girl approached and stood next to the first, followedby another. Soon, a chain of six girls stood by him as he repeated hisvows to Anna.

Anna felt her lip begin to quiver as tears welled up in her eyes. “Is this some kind of joke?” she whispered to David.

“I’m…I’m sorry, Anna,” he said, staring at the floor.

“Who are these girls, David? What is going on?” she gasped.

“They’re girls from my past,” he answered sadly. “Anna, they don’t mean anything to me now…but I’ve given part of my heart to each of them.”

“I thought your heart was mine,” she said.

“It is, it is,” he pleaded. “Everything that’s left is yours.” A tear rolled down Anna’s cheek. Then she woke up.

Anna told me about her dream in a letter. “When I awoke I felt so betrayed,” she wrote. “But then I was struck with these sickening thoughts: How many men could line up next to me on my wedding day? How many times have I given my heart away in short-term relationships? Will I have anything left to give my husband?”

This scene isn’t talking about sex or physical contact. It’s talking about “emotional entanglements.” This isn’t about physical virginity, it’s about love virginity. 

I never quite had that concern. (And it was a good thing as I was painfully in (almost always unrequited) love with a different girl every year and a half or so from ages 11-21 when I stopped worshiping God and, as part of that, stopped idealizing and putting women on ridiculous pedestals to be worshiped like unattainable goddesses.)

For me, unrealistic fantasies about the divine were connected to equally unrealistic fantasies about the divine marriage and unrealistic, counter-productive expectations of physical purity from myself and all-around perfection from the women I fell for (who I would, therefore, make perfect in my mind to match my faith that it was possible and expected that they could really be perfect).

And as part of all this was the attempt to remove the dialectical interplay between body and mind in love. The goal was to lopsidedly turn love into something that did not need physical expression, which could only be tainted by physical expression if there was not an eternal, marital commitment in place already.

First two disembodied spirits had to prove they could truly love each other and only then could they bind together as one flesh and anything physical before that was a betrayal and adultery to that future marriage. The whole philosophy is naive, twisted, and emotionally stunting. It is a recipe for self-loathing, jealousy, hatred of your body, and disappointment. And its psychological damages may never fully heal.

Some young Christians do well with it because they meet a truly right person for them young enough and they just marry young and quickly and, given their utter faith in their values, they never regret missing out on having other lovers, other experiences, or a freer period of experimentation.

The rest, especially those who leave the faith, risk a lot of torment, unnecessary loneliness, discomfort in their own bodies, and a long delayed loss of virginity which can be humiliating, exasperating, frustrating, angering, and alienating. It saps confidence, undermines attempts to form relationships, and leaves people feeling like they are in arrested development. I’ve had depressingly too many friends messed up in these ways for a lot of years by having Evangelical attitudes and behaviors with respect to sex while they were teenagers and college kids. That’s why I think everyone should just listen to Chef:

Your Thoughts?

More from Camels With Hammers on Evangelicals, sex, and the struggles of ex-Christians:

Christian Anti-Kissing Propaganda

Sex And Apostasy

Defending Apostates’ Intellects Against A Dismissive Christian Apologist

Read posts in my ongoing “deconversion series” in order to learn more about my experience as a Christian, how I deconverted, what it was like for me when I deconverted, and where my life and my thoughts went after I deconverted.

Before I Deconverted:

Before I Deconverted: My Christian Childhood

Before I Deconverted: Ministers As Powerful Role Models

My Fundamentalist Preacher Brother, His Kids, And Me (And “What To Do About One’s Religiously Raised Nieces and Nephews”)

Before I Deconverted: I Was A Teenage Christian Contrarian

Before I Deconverted, I Already Believed in Equality Between the Sexes

Love Virginity

Before I Deconverted: I Dabbled with Calvinism in College (Everyone Was Doing It)

How Evangelicals Can Be Very Hurtful Without Being Very Hateful

Before I Deconverted: My Grandfather’s Contempt

How I Deconverted:

How I Deconverted, It Started With Humean Skepticism

How I Deconverted, I Became A Christian Relativist

How I Deconverted: December 8, 1997

How I Deconverted: I Made A Kierkegaardian Leap of Faith

How I Deconverted: My Closest, and Seemingly “Holiest”, Friend Came Out As Gay

How I Deconverted: My Closeted Best Friend Became A Nihilist and Turned Suicidal

How I Deconverted: Nietzsche Caused A Gestalt Shift For Me (But Didn’t Inspire “Faith”)

As I Deconverted: I Spent A Summer As A Christian Camp Counselor Fighting Back Doubts

How I Deconverted: I Ultimately Failed to Find Reality In Abstractions

A Postmortem on my Deconversion: Was it that I just didn’t love Jesus enough?

When I Deconverted:

When I Deconverted: I Was Reading Nietzsche’s “Anti-Christ”, Section 50

When I Deconverted: I Had Been Devout And Was Surrounded By The Devout

When I Deconverted: Some People Felt Betrayed

When I Deconverted: My Closest Christian Philosopher Friends Remained My Closest Philosophical Brothers

When I Deconverted: I Was Not Alone

The Philosophical Key To My Deconversion:

Apostasy As A Religious Act (Or “Why A Camel Hammers the Idols of Faith”)

When I Deconverted: Some Anger Built Up

After I Deconverted:

After I Deconverted: I Was A Radical Skeptic, Irrationalist, And Nihilist—But Felt Liberated

After My Deconversion: I Refuse to Let Christians Judge Me

After My Deconversion: My Nietzschean Lion Stage of Liberating Indignant Rage

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Rawnaeris

    I’m cross posting my two comments from Benson’s blog, because I and my friends lived this:

    1)

    I was put through this in my church when I was in Jr. High. The scary thing is that I was in a “Mainstream” church that was very liberal for the area. It has taken me years to begin undoing all of the emotionally harmful things I learned about relationships in church. They are emotional programming viruses, and I’m still not sure I’ve found all of them yet.

    I no longer find it surprising that I was courting an emotionally abusive alcoholic when I was still in High School.

    I think I can trace the faltering of my beliefs back to the moment my best friend, who was an atheist, convinced me that I was worth more than my Church and that boyfriend said I was. There is some irony there; the atheist valued who I was and taught me to value that, whereas the “perfect guy” and my support circle only taught me self-loathing.

    And post #2 was in response to the question “Why”:

    It’s just another, subtler, ‘females are actually worthless’ campaign that the “mainstream” churches can get away with.

    The female isn’t worthy or smart enough to select her own mate/lover/husband/boyfriend. The male must approach her.
    And then she is expected to be flattered and bow to his every whim…but you are impure if you are pressured into any kind of sex (including oral, etc.) but if he can get you to break that he’s a manly man, a stud.

    I was only exposed to a light version of this, ie. I was not forced to read the book. One of my friends did, and she took it to heart. This belief system believes that even kissing prior to marriage is impure or “going too far”. She did not do anything other than hold the hand of the man she would marry until her wedding day, when they had their first kiss.

    She was held up as a paragon of our church.

    Fuck my head hurts just going back to those thought processes to explain to you. And my mother wonders why I refuse to worship her god *snort*.

    And slightly more on-topic for this OP, it had very little to do with a godly marriage in my church and everything to do with controlling the wimminz and controlling the teenagers. If you can get them to deny who they like, it’s easier for the Elders, Deacons, and Parents to essentially set up arranged marriages within the church.

    The son gets to pick which girl he wants, and if the aforementioned people approve, then he asks her out, and who’s going to argue.

    The effect is amplified when he is the son of one of the heads of church. My personal experience was the son of the Choir director. Turns out, my parents didn’t even like him, but his mother was powerful in the church, and my being dated/courted/what the fuck ever by this guy got them some of their own power to enjoy. Even if it was just the prestige of who their in-laws might someday be.

  • Cuttlefish

    So it’s okay to have completely meaningless sex with tons of people?

    I ask because of a couple I knew. She had had 4 partners before meeting him, and had been in love with each of them. This utterly ripped him up inside (he was an evangelical christian, but I don’t know if he shares the beliefs Ophelia reports), since he was not her first and only love. He, on the other hand, as the drummer in a minor rock band, had lost count after sex with 200 or so women, none of whom he cared about (also, before his roadside religious conversion experience). He didn’t see why this might be a big deal for her.

    • http://skepticlawyer.com.au/ skepticlawyer

      This is fairly standard example of the ‘virgin/whore’ dichotomy present in the monotheisms. There are women who men bonk, and women who men marry, and they are not the same women, ever.

      The alternative religious model (characteristic of Roman and Celtic paganism, as well as Shinto) is that a man should marry a woman who really, really likes sex, because sex is healthy and the gods like it. If she stops liking sex, however, then he has the right to screw around (but not in the marital home).

      The second model, although still deeply patriarchal, is actually healthier, as it doesn’t distort female sexuality, and was historically combined with liberal divorce regimes where women could initiate divorce on equal terms and, in the Roman/Celtic case, always kept their property.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      I don’t think we have to think about things in such either/or terms. But there are many important ethical questions worth working through and if I have the time, it’s worth posting on. Thanks for the provocation!

  • Rawnaeris

    @ Cuttlefish; As far as I could tell, yes, basically. It’s the assumption that women are naturally sluts, and should be shunned for this. But teh menz have needs don’cha know.

    Actually I can’t give a good accounting of the big picture past women shouldn’t decide their loves, because as teenagers, the guys and girls were given different explanations in different rooms/events.

    I suspect the boy I dated under this kind of environment was bragging behind my back of the things he was able to pressure me into doing, because I underwent some shunning from people not in his immediate friends circle at our church. Of course, this is a case of hindsight is 20/20, I had no clue why I was being shunned back then. I thought I was just shitty at keeping friends.

  • speedwell

    (And it was a good thing as I was painfully in (almost always unrequited) love with a different girl every year and a half or so from ages 11-21 when I stopped worshiping God and, as part of that, stopped idealizing and putting women on ridiculous pedestals to be worshiped like unattainable goddesses.)

    Hmm. This rings a bell. Do I do this to men? Maybe for the same reason? Thanks for the insight.

    • Mark C.

      Rings a bell for me, too. However, there was more to my experience: Even around five years after my deconversion (which occurred around age 15), I would still react negatively (sad, not angry) if I knew that my girlfriend or prospective partner wasn’t a virgin. These days (I’m almost 25), I don’t give a shit.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      No problem. My mostly successful approach to overcoming that has been to not fall in love with women as abstractions but in the contexts of relationships. I still have a set of crushes on women who I think are abstractly great. But I do not idealize them or invest myself in actually wanting them if I have no indication they want me. I think that can only develop organically within an actual relating of two people if it is going to be healthy and reality based.

    • Tisha Irwin

      Age has a lot to do with it, too. I did not know myself nearly as well as I thought I did when I was 20 and got married. When you don’t know yourself, you can’t possibly make accurate assessments of other people. And boy did I make a terrible assessment. But you learn and then you (hopefully) don’t make the same mistakes again. Or you do, but with less frequency.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Exactly. And it’s a big problem when you have people who in many cases are capable of sex at 12 or 13 and yet not emotionally mature enough for the ideal modern marriage (one that is mutually autonomous and involves mutual flourishing and is based on enduing love and not unbreakable tradition) until they are in their mid or late twenties. The idea of forcing young people to be sexually and emotionally abstinent for 12-18 or more years, when their bodies are biologically ready and primed for love and sex is not only unrealistic in most cases, it has cruel, stupid, and unnecessary consequences for many of those who really do hang in there and abstain. At minimum they waste years of their lives deprived of pleasure, friendship, love, experience, companionship, fun, and emotional and sexual development. And at worst, they get really stunted through this.

  • Tisha Irwin

    Besides the whole suppressing/controlling female sexuality aspect of this, there is a fundamental flaw to their line of reasoning: love is not a zero sum game. It’s ridiculous to think that because one has loved someone in the past, that there is less love to give someone else in the future. Or even in the present.

    These are usually the same kinds of people who favor having lots (and lots) of children. Are they actually going to admit that they don’t love their 6th or 10th or 15th child as much as their first? Or I guess that they love them all equally, but not as much as if they had been an only child.

    It’s depressing how many of us have been warped by these ridiculous notions of what love and relationships ought to be.

  • plutosdad

    I used to subscribe to that idea when I was younger (and should have been enjoying the life as a young person). But now I see what it did: stunt my emotional growth, ensure I did not have the life experience to handle live and relationships in my 20s, and give me huge insurmountable expectations of other people.

    I thought I had it better than friends who had caught diseases or were pregnant or had abortions, and well you can date and be be careful and not have those things happen. But what I also did not understand at the time was that being “free” from pain and heartbreak really only meant I was free from learning and living a full life.

    Dating when young allows you to make mistakes when the consequences are not severe. You hurt others and get hurt, and in the process you learn how to be a better person, how to treat your partners better. Especially dating teaches us how selfish we truly are, and how hypocritical, and what we can expect, what we should give, how to be both assertive and loving.

    To wait until you are married to learn all those means you are harming the person you will live with over and over. Then expecting them to stick around for the rest of your life. If you have children this is especially dangerous.

    In fact, as Tisha Irwin points out above, because of my past relationships, I have MORE to offer future relationships, not less. And if I dated more when younger, I might have met the person I’d spend the rest of my life with earlier than 38, when I finally did. She was married twice before, I don’t think that means she gave any part of her away, it’s made her better and smarter.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      So true, Plutosdad.

  • http://www.kevland.com/ Johnny Vector

    What plutosdad said. How can anyone with a lick of sense think that it’s bad to have loved others in the past? To me, that says “I loved him, and I loved him, and him and him, and I didn’t marry them. I’ve known all these men, and I love you more than any of them.”

    But I guess that’s what comes of looking at relationships realistically rather than as a romantic unattainable script.

    Also:

    Some young Christians … never regret missing out on having other lovers, other experiences, or a freer period of experimentation.

    [citation needed]. I could be wrong, but I suspect that applies to damn few.

  • http://crommunist.wordpress.com Crommunist

    The thing that has bothered me about this line of reasoning is how goshdarned reductive it is. I have had meaningful sexless relationships with people. I have had ‘meaningless’ sexual relationships with people (I have never found this to be actually possible unless you’re a psychopath). The value of a relationship, of a person, is so far beyond the limited experience of sexual intercourse. The fetishization of virginity is basically just a statement that the most important thing in a relationship lives between your legs. What nonsense.

    The things that matter in a relationship are more closely aligned with trust, emotional intimacy, and mutual compatibility of those aspects of yourselves that you think are important than they are with ‘the ol’ in-out-in-out’. I would be slightly miffed to learn that someone I was in love with had ‘given herself’ emotionally to a large number of people before me. The number of nocturnal carnivals she’s been to really doesn’t enter into my calculation at all, and I don’t think it should for anyone.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty

    I think that love, when shared, multiplies. My past partners are just that — past — and I’ve learned from each one.

  • Carlie

    The rest, especially those who leave the faith, risk a lot of torment, unnecessary loneliness, discomfort in their own bodies, and a long delayed loss of virginity which can be humiliating, exasperating, frustrating, angering, and alienating.

    Don’t forget all of the ones who get married young simply because they can’t stand to wait for sex any longer, and then end up divorced years later because it was such a bad match in the first place. I know of many, many fundamentalist marriages that started when the couple were in their late teens and ended in their early 30s.

  • ttch

    How can you truly love the god of Abraham if you haven’t loved at least a few other gods first?

  • Bill

    I need to not reveal too much because we are married 36 years, and my wife would not want me to spill out private stuff. Just let’s say that while I don’t doubt or deprecate what plutosdad states, my experience has been just the opposite.


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